FoodCircles was a startup that provided meals to hungry children by selling vouchers for special promotions from local restaurants.
I met the founder, Jonathan Kumar, while living in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2013. They were working on a redesign of the service, so I proposed a user research study to help inform decisions about the new direction. This work was featured on the FoodCircles blog.
Research questions
We defined the following research questions for the study:

What are users’ dining out habits (when/where do they go, how do they decide, etc.)?
What are users’ attitudes toward deals and vouchers? Where do they find them?
How does giving back fit into users' lives?
What gets people interested in FoodCircles? How do they understand how it works?

I decided that the best way to answer these kinds of exploratory, qualitative questions would be face-to-face interviews with people who had used FoodCircles more than once.
I emailed these users requesting a meeting to discuss dining out, deals, giving back, and their experiences with FoodCircles. I found five people who were willing to meet with me.

Female, 30s, married with young children, self-employed
Female, 50s, married with adult children, working full-time
Female, 20s, young professional
Male, 20s, young professional
Male, 20s, self-employed in technology
I met participants in a public place of their choosing. We talked for about 30-45 minutes, using an interview instrument to guide the conversation. Participants received a FoodCircles t-shirt in exchange for their help.
After completing the interviews, I broke down my notes into "affinity notes" — basically, individual pieces of information from what the participants said. I used the notes to create an affinity diagram, moving them around to find trends and similarities. I gave each group of notes a label, which would become my research findings.
I created a report describing the study and the findings, as well as recommendations derived from the findings. I highlighted the key takeaways as the following.
The concept is a win-win: “I’m going to eat anyway!”
Five out of the five people I spoke to voiced the sentiment that using FoodCircles is "a no-brainer" - everyone eats, dining out is good, and FoodCircles make it easy to fight hunger at the same time.
➜ This fact could be leveraged by FoodCircles in many ways, for instance, reaching users who are already in FoodCircles-affiliated restaurants through their servers or menus.
Most FoodCircles users already regularly give back in other ways
Most of the people that I talked to had specific causes that they regularly made plans to support, rather than giving back spontaneously.
➜ Making connections with other charitable groups would be a great way to reach potential users.
Dinner is the most common meal for dining out
I heard that typically dinner is seen as an occasion to enjoy dining out with friends, while lunch is usually something you grab quickly, more often by yourself.
➜ For this reason, FoodCircles should focus its offers around dinner.
Emails are the #1 way to sell vouchers
Although a lot of time and effort was going into the website redesign, the people I talked to weren't even sure if they had ever visited the website. Rather, they associated FoodCircles with other daily deal services like Groupon, which they liked to receive in their email rather than actively seeking out.
➜ FoodCircles should focus on proactively bringing deals to users, especially via email.
Users are curious about how it works
Whenever I asked users if they had any questions for me, they wanted to know how exactly FoodCircles managed to give back.
➜ Making the system more transparent could help make users feel more rewarded by their actions and thus come back more often.

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